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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 18:01 GMT
School closure plans spark row
Stephanie Todd
BBC News Online Scotland

Children in Midlothian have found themselves at the centre of a fierce battle between the local authority and their parents over what is best for their future education.

A plan by Midlothian Council to close five rural primary schools and relocate the education of about 200 children elsewhere has left local people incensed.

Howgate Primary, along with Temple, Borthwick, Cousland and Cranston primaries will shut this summer if proposals get the go-ahead following a month-long public consultation.

Borthwick Primary School
Locals say village schools are at the heart of their communities
The closures form part of a massive project for Midlothian, which includes plans for 16 new schools.

Council officials believe that merging pupils from the five smaller primaries with others to form larger schools will see pupils benefit from far better facilities than currently available, which are to be funded through a 50m private finance deal.

The move would see pupils move out of older run-down facilities into modern buildings that can be used out of school hours to benefit the wider community.

Under the plan, the five primary schools will close this summer, however work on replacement buildings is not set for completion until 2006, forcing some children into temporary accommodation.

Public consultation is currently under way with parents and community leaders already voicing strong opposition to the proposals put forward.

Individual attention

Sandra Crow, a mother of two boys at Temple primary and a member of Midlothian Schools Action Group, said there would be a major impact on the community in light of the closures.

She said: "The children will be taken away from their friends and from schools where they receive individual attention to be part of some kind of council experiment.

"If this goes ahead they have just 80 days left at schools where they are very happy. It makes you really wonder about the authority's education ideals if they are promoting bigger schools."

She also criticised the council for not allowing a longer period for consultation. The statutory 28-day period currently under way is the minimum amount of time the authority has to give.

Ms Crow added: "Other areas that have experienced similar closures of small schools have gone through lengthy consultation periods first - usually around one year long - but we only found out two weeks ago that the council is planning to shut the doors on five of our schools by August, with a public consultation period on the issue due to end in April.

Protest at Borthwick
Campaigners say parents are overwhelmingly against the closures
"There is hardly any time at all for us to discuss the proposal in depth and put our case forward. We haven't been given any other option other than closure and what we are fighting for is to be given more time to explore what other avenues, apart from closure, there could be.

"The children and parents that are linked to these schools are mostly all from rural farms with next door neighbours a good few miles away, the small village school is the heart of the village and community where adults and children meet.

"It is not just parents that are against this but the community as a whole has united against these plans.

"If these closures go ahead, it will be a death knell to village life in Midlothian."

Call for delay

Politicians have also joined the campaign to save the schools.

Green MSP Robin Harper has submitted a parliamentary motion appealing for the consultation period to be extended.

He said: "Certainly 28 days is too short a space of time for an issue as large as this. If it was a couple of new schools to be built and one closing, fine. But this will affect hundreds of children and families.

"By closing these schools, the council will be taking the heart out of these communities. The destruction of rural communities has been going on quietly for the last 20 years - first the village shop goes, then the post office and then the schools. Pretty soon all that will be left is dormitory towns.

"There has to be a point where people say enough is enough. Small rural communities are being rationalised out of existence for the sake of a small saving."

Since the programme was proposed we have already had dialogue with many of the school boards and associated groups and individuals and these are continuing
Peter Boyes
Midlothian Council
A petition has also been raised by parents calling on the Scottish Parliament to step in and prevent the closures - a move which is being backed by James Douglas-Hamilton, Lothians MSP and Tory education spokesman.

He is lodging a parliamentary motion on Friday opposing the closure of all five schools.

He said: "The closure of five primary schools in a countryside setting is unjust, not just in terms of education, but social terms too.

"I could understand it more if one, or possibly two, were earmarked for closure but to shut all five at once is way over the top, particularly when they are all centres of educational excellence and of great service to the surrounding communities."

Councillor Peter Boyes, cabinet member for education and lifelong learning in Midlothian, said the proposals put forward were aimed at providing a quality learning environment to the maximum number of pupils, within available resources.

He added: "Midlothian Council is due to commence a series of public meetings on the schools plus programmes which will see a total of 16 new build schools for local communities as well as proposing the closure of five rural schools.

"Since the programme was proposed we have already had dialogue with many of the school boards and associated groups and individuals and these are continuing.

"Our consultation extends from the initial meeting on 26 February to 16 April which goes beyond the statutory consultation period of 28 days and the council will take on board representations made at the public meetings or through the postcard or e-mail responses which are being submitted to us.

"However, at the moment the consultation will end on Friday, 16 April when a further report will go to Midlothian Council's cabinet for further consideration."


SEE ALSO:
Anger over school merger plans
02 Apr 03  |  Scotland
Row brews over school closures
15 Apr 02  |  Scotland
Schools win reprieve
28 Jun 00  |  Scotland


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